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A Demographic and Employment Profile of United States Farmworkers -- Daniel Carroll

Findings from the A Demographic and

National Agricultural Employment Profile of

Workers Survey United States Farmworkers

(NAWS) 1997-1998

Research Report No. 8


U.S. Department of Labor

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy

Office of Program Economics

March 2000


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Findings from the A Demographic and

National Agricultural Employment Profile of

Workers Survey United States Farmworkers

(NAWS) 1997-1998


U.S. Department of Labor
aLEXIS m. hERMAN, SECRETARY


OFFICE OF THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR POLICY

EDWARD B. MONTGOMERY, ASSISTANT SECRETARY

MARCH 2000


This report was produced through a collaboration of the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy, and Aguirre International, San Mateo, California.

It was written by:

Kala Mehta, Aguirre International

Susan M. Gabbard, Aguirre International

Vanessa Barrat, Aguirre International

Melissa Lewis, Aguirre International

Daniel Carroll, U.S. Department of Labor

Richard Mines, U.S. Department of Labor

The authors are grateful to Jorge Nakamoto and Alberto Sandoval, Aguirre International,

for coordinating the field interviews on which the report is based, to 4,199 farmworkers in

the United States for graciously participating in interviews during 1997-98, and to their

agricultural employers for helping survey staff reach these workers.

The authors are solely responsible for the contents of this report.

Table of Contents
Executive Summary............................................................................................. VII

Introduction.............................................................................................................. 1

Topics Covered......................................................................................................... 1

Survey Method......................................................................................................... 2

Chapter 1: Place of Birth and Length of Stay in the U.S................. 5

Place of Birth........................................................................................................... 5

Number of Years to Date in the United States....................................... 6

Chapter 2: Demographics, Family and Household Composition…9

Age................................................................................................................................. 9

Gender........................................................................................................................ 10

Household Structure......................................................................................... 10

Chapter 3: Education, Literacy, and English Skills........................ 13

Native Language................................................................................................... 13

Education................................................................................................................. 13

Adult Education................................................................................................... 15

Literacy.................................................................................................................... 15

English Fluency (Self rated).......................................................................... 17

Chapter 4: Labor.................................................................................................... 19

Number of Jobs....................................................................................................... 19

Migration................................................................................................................. 20

Legal Status of U.S. Farmworkers............................................................... 22

Time Spent in Labor Over the Year.............................................................. 24

Farm Work Experience……………………………………………………………...26

Plans to Continue in Farm Work................................................................... 27

Chapter 5: Characteristics of Farm Jobs and Farm Conditions...29 ...............................................................................................................................................

Employers................................................................................................................ 29

Crops........................................................................................................................... 29

Tasks........................................................................................................................... 30

Recruitment and Retention............................................................................ 31

Hours Worked and Basis for Pay.................................................................. 32

Wages.......................................................................................................................... 33

Fringe Benefits...................................................................................................... 36

Housing...................................................................................................................... 37

Meals.......................................................................................................................... 37

Sanitation................................................................................................................ 37

Transportation..................................................................................................... 37

Equipment................................................................................................................. 37

Chapter 6: Income and Assets......................................................................... 39

Income........................................................................................................................ 39

Farmworker Assets............................................................................................ 39

Use of Services....................................................................................................... 40

Appendix: Statistical Procedures.............................................................. 43

NAWS Weighting Procedure............................................................................. 43

Determining Standard Error........................................................................ 43

Table of Figures


Chart 1. Farmworker Ethnicity and Place of Birth............................................................... 5

Chart 2. Number of Years in the United States, by Birthplace............................................. 6

Chart 3. Foreign-Born Workers' Length of Residence in the United States.......................... 7

Chart 4. Age Distribution of U.S. Farmworkers................................................................... 9

Chart 5. Farmworker Marital Status.................................................................................. 10

Chart 6. Number of Resident and Non-Resident Children of Farmworker Parents............ 11

Chart 7. Native Language of U.S. Farmworkers................................................................. 13

Chart 8. Level of Education by Place of Last Schooling.................................................... 14

Chart 9. Participation in Adult Education Classes............................................................. 15

Chart 10. Participation in Adult Education by Years of Schooling...................................... 16

Chart 11. U.S. Farmworkers With Fluency in English, by Place of Birth and Ethnicity....... 17

Chart 12. Number of Jobs Held by U.S. Farmworkers in One Year.................................... 19

Chart 13. Migration and U.S. Farmworkers......................................................................... 20

Table 1. Defining Migrant Travel Patterns........................................................................ 21

Chart 14. Farmworkers' Home Base................................................................................... 21

Chart 15. Percent Distribution of Farmworkers by Current Legal Status............................ 22

Chart 16. Percent Distribution of Farmworkers’ Legal Status by Method of Application... 23

Chart 17. Time Spent in Farm Work in the Year Prior to Interview by Farmworker

...... Place of Birth...................................................................................................... 24

Table 2. Distribution of Weeks Spent in Various Activities: Three Periods Compared.... 25

Table 3. Monthly Activity of Farmworkers, 1997............................................................. 26

Table 4. Years of Farm Work and Average Age by Method of Legalization..................... 26

Chart 18. Crops in Which Farmworkers are Employed...................................................... 29

Chart 19. Crops in Which FLC Employees Work............................................................... 30

Chart 20. Tasks in Which Farmworkers are Employed....................................................... 31

Chart 21. Basis for Pay, All Farm Jobs.............................................................................. 32

Chart 22. Earnings Per Hour, by Task and Employer Type................................................. 33

Table 5. Farmworker Nominal and Real Hourly Wages (Based on 1998)....................... 34

Chart 23. Hourly Nominal and Real Wages (Based on 1998)............................................. 34

Table 6. Average Hourly Earnings of Crop Workers and Workers in the Nonfarm Private

...... Sector................................................................................................................... 35

Chart 24. Average Hourly Earnings of Crop Workers and Other Workers in the Private Sector.............................................................................................................................. 35

Chart 25. Workers who Report Receiving Fringe Benefits, by Employer Type.................. 36

Chart 26. Incomes Below Poverty Level, by Family Size................................................... 40

Chart 27. Households Receiving Payments From "Contribution-Based" Programs............ 40

Chart 28. Households Receiving "Needs-Based" Government Services............................ 41

Table A.1. Means and Standard Errors for Continuous and Dichotomous Variables…………..44


Executive Summary


This is Report Number 8 in a series of publications based on the findings of the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), a nationwide, random survey on the demographic and employment characteristics of hired crop workers. This report, like those before it, finds that several long-standing trends characterizing the farm labor workforce and the farm labor market continue. It finds that farmworker wages have stagnated, annual earnings remain below the poverty level, farmworkers experience chronic underemployment and that the farm workforce increasingly consists of young, single males who are recent immigrants.

In 1997-98, most farmworkers (60%) held only one farm job per year and the majority (70%) had learned about their current job through informal means, such as through a friend, a relative or a workmate. On average, farmworkers were employed in agriculture for less than half of a year (24 weeks). Even in July, when demand for farm labor peaks in many parts of the country, just over half of the total farm labor workforce held agricultural jobs. On average, farmworkers supplemented their agricultural earnings with five weeks of nonfarm employment in the U.S.

The number of weeks this workforce is employed each year in farm and nonfarm jobs in the U.S. has been declining. Since 1990-92, the average work year in agriculture has decreased from 26 to 24 weeks while the number of weeks in nonagricultural employment has decreased from eight to five. At the time of the 1997-98 interviews, farmworkers had worked, on average, a total of just eight years in agriculture.

Over the period of the 1990’s, with a strong economy and greater, increasingly widespread prosperity, farmworker wages have lost ground relative to those of workers in the private, nonfarm sector. Since 1989, the average nominal hourly wage of farmworkers has risen by only 18 percent (from $5.24 to $6.18), about one-half of the 32 percent increase for nonagricultural workers. Adjusted for inflation, the average real hourly wage of farmworkers (in 1998 dollars) has dropped from $6.89 to $6.18. Consequently, farmworkers have lost 11 percent of their purchasing power over the last decade.

Fifty-two percent of all farmworkers were married, and the majority (61%) had incomes below the poverty level. For the past decade, the median income of individual farmworkers has remained less than $7,500 per year while that of farmworker families has remained less than $10,000. Despite the fact that the relative poverty of farmworkers and their families has grown, their use of social services remains low and, for some programs, has even declined. For instance, in both 1994-95 and 1997-98, just 20 percent of all farmworkers reported having received unemployment insurance. Likewise, in both periods, just 10 percent reported receiving benefits from the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Use of Medicaid and food stamps has decreased over time. In 1994-95, 15 percent of all those interviewed reported receiving Medicaid and food stamps versus 13 percent and 10 percent, respectively, in 1997-98.

Other measures of economic well being indicate that farmworkers are increasingly disadvantaged. In 1994-95, nearly half (49%) of all farmworkers owned a vehicle, a figure that dropped to 44 percent in 1997-98. More workers now rely on employers, contractors, and coworkers for transportation to work. Another large change was in home ownership. In 1994-95, one third of all farmworkers owned or were buying a home in the U.S. By 1997-98, only half as many (14%) so reported.

These trends are consistent with the finding that a large share of the farm workforce consists of recent immigrants. In 1997-98, 27 percent of all those interviewed had entered the U.S. within the previous two years. Many of these new workers (33%) had no previous experience working in agriculture. Among all farmworkers interviewed in 1997-98, 52 percent lacked work authorization.

NAWS findings of low wages, underemployment, and low annual incomes of U.S. crop workers are indicative of a national oversupply of farm labor. Low annual income, in turn, most likely contributes to the instability that characterizes the agricultural labor market, as farm workers seek jobs paying higher wages and offering more hours of work.

The National Agricultural Workers Survey profiles characteristics of crop workers and their jobs: important components of the supply side of the farm labor market. Labor markets, however, reflect the interaction of labor supply and demand. A study of the demand for farm labor, and how it would likely change as the farm labor supply changed, is beyond the scope of the NAWS. Such a study, however, would complement the farm worker data collected via the NAWS and help point the way to an agricultural labor market that promotes stable employment, higher wages and a legal, domestic workforce.

Introduction


Farmworkers in the United States perform numerous important tasks necessary for cultivating and harvesting a large share of the nation’s food supply. This report presents current information on the characteristics and work patterns of those who perform crop work in the United States (U.S.). It is intended to provide data for policy makers, researchers, agricultural producers/employers, employer associations, and organizations providing services to farmworkers.

The National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) is a national survey of farmworkers in crop agriculture. The NAWS collects extensive data from this population concerning basic demographics, legal status, education, family size and household composition, wages and working conditions in farm jobs, and participation in the U.S. labor force. Information for this report was obtained from 4,199 interviews with workers in the United States during fiscal years 1997 and 1998.

Initially, the NAWS was commissioned by the Department of Labor (DOL) as part of its response to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). The original purposes were to monitor turnover of seasonal agricultural service workers in order to identify emerging shortages between 1990 and 1993 and to monitor seasonal agricultural wages and working conditions. Since that time, several other federal agencies have participated in the development of the NAWS questionnaire by contributing questions to assist them in better serving their farmworker constituencies.

The NAWS interviews workers performing crop agriculture.[1] The definition of crop work by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) includes “field work” in the vast majority of nursery products, cash grains, and field crops, as well as in all fruits and vegetables. Crop agriculture also includes the production of silage and other animal fodder. The population sampled by NAWS consists of nearly all farmworkers in crop agriculture, including field packers, and supervisors, and even those simultaneously holding nonfarm jobs. However, the sample excludes secretaries and mechanics, and H-2A temporary farmworkers. The NAWS does not sample unemployed agricultural workers.

Topics Covered


This report is organized into six chapters. Chapters 1 through 3 provide information about the farmworkers, themselves, including demographic characteristics, family composition, national origin, education, and language proficiency.

Chapters 4 and 5 describe the labor force participation of U.S. crop workers.[2] Chapter 4 gives an overview of worker participation in the farm labor force. Chapter 5 outlines the characteristics of farm jobs held by workers in the survey, including crop and task, weekly hours, wages and benefits, and working conditions.

Chapter 6 contains information on farmworkers’ income, assets, and use of social services. It covers personal income, assets in the United States and home country, family poverty status, and use of government and private social services.

The text and figures summarize worker responses to interview questions, in some cases aggregated by important subgroups of the population. An appendix describes statistical conventions followed in analyses throughout this report.

Survey Method


During fiscal years 1997 and 1998, the NAWS randomly selected and interviewed more than 2,000 crop workers across the United States each year. The multi-stage sampling procedure is designed to account for seasonal and regional fluctuations in the level of farm employment. The NAWS is designed to obtain a nationally representative sample of crop workers.

Seasonal fluctuations in the agricultural work force are captured by three interviewing cycles lasting 10 to 12 weeks each. Cycles begin in February, June, and October. The number of interviews conducted during a cycle is proportional to the amount of crop activity at that time of the year.

The amount of crop activity during each season of the year is approximated using administrative data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census of Agriculture. All states in the continental U.S. are divided into 12 regions, aggregated from the 17 agricultural regions used by the USDA. Within these regions, a roster of 47 Crop Reporting Districts (CRD) containing 288 counties was selected. For each cycle, no fewer than two CRD were selected randomly for each region.

Multi-stage sampling is used to choose respondents in each cycle. The number of sites selected is also proportional to the amount of farm work being done during the cycle. The likelihood of a given site being selected varies with the size of its seasonal agricultural payroll. Because some states such as California and Florida have relatively high agricultural payrolls throughout the year, several CRDs in these states are selected for interviews during each cycle. Within each CRD, a county is selected at random. Farm employers within each of the selected counties are chosen randomly from public agency records. Principle among these are unemployment insurance files, Agricultural Commissioners’ pesticide registrations, and lists maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and various state agencies. The availability of these data varies by state. NAWS staff review and update these lists annually in the field.

Once the sample is drawn, NAWS interviewers contact the selected agricultural employers, explain the purpose of the survey, and obtain access to the work site in order to schedule interviews. Interviewers then go to the farm, ranch, or nursery, explain the purpose of the survey to workers, and ask a random sample of them to participate. Interviews are conducted in the workers’ home or at another location of the worker’s choice.

The 4,199 personal interviews on which this report is based were conducted in 85 counties between October 1, 1996 and September 30, 1998.

Chapter 1: Place of Birth and Length of Stay in the U.S.
Summary of Findings

Ø 81 percent of all farmworkers in 1997-98 were foreign-born

Ø 77 percent of all farmworkers were Mexican-Born

Ø A disproportionate share of foreign-born farmworkers had either immigrated within the previous two years or had resided in the U.S. for more than 15 years.

Chart 1. Farmworker Ethnicity and Place of Birth

Place of Birth


Eighty-one percent of all farmworkers were foreign-born. The vast majority of the foreign-born (95%)[FOREIGNB]wet were from Mexico, comprising [FOREIGNB*POB]three quarters of the farm workforce in 1997-98. The remainder were from other parts of Latin America (2%), Asia (1%), and other countries (1%).

About 19 percent of all farmworkers were U.S.-born. U.S.-born Whites accounted for just 7 percent of all farmworkers, while U.S.-born Hispanics, African Americans and others made up the remaining 12 percent (see Chart 1).

Number of Years to Date in the United States


Foreign-born farmworkers had spent an average of 10 years in the United States at the time of the interview. This figure largely reflects the experience of the dominant group, the Mexican-born. By comparison, Central Americans averaged 6 years and Southeast Asians 8 years in the U.S. In contrast, smaller groups such as Asians, Pacific Islanders, and South American individuals typically had been in the U.S. more than 10 years (see Chart 2).


Chart 2. Number of Years in the United States, by Birthplace

In 1997-98, the foreign-born farm workforce was dominated by two main groups: newcomers who had arrived in the United States within the last two years, and those who had resided in the U.S. for fifteen years or more. [NEWSTAY*FOREIGNB] Newcomers accounted for one-third, and those resident 15 years or more another quarter of the foreign-born workforce (see Chart 3).

Chart 3. Foreign-Born Workers' Length of Residence in the United States

Summary of Findings

Ø Farmworkers are young: their average age is 31, and half of all farmworkers are under 29 years of age.

Ø Eighty percent of farmworkers are men.

Ø One-half of all farmworkers are married, and slightly less than one-half are parents.

Ø Among farmworker parents, half are not accompanied by their children.

Chapter 2: Demographics, Family and Household Composition

Age

Chart 4. Age Distribution of U.S. Farmworkers
As might be expected in a physically intense occupation, the farmworker population was relatively young. Approximately 79 percent of all farmworkers were between the ages of 18 and 44. [AGEGRP] Six percent were between the ages of 14 and 17, and 15 percent were 45 and above (see Chart 4). The median age of all farmworkers was 29.

Gender


Just 20 percent of U.S. farmworkers were women. [GENDER] Female farmworkers differed in some key respects from males. They were more likely to be U.S.-born (34% vs. 15%), and tended to be somewhat older (median age 31 vs. 28).

Household Structure


Slightly over half (52%) of farmworkers were married; another 43 percent were single, while the remaining 5 percent were widowed, separated or divorced (see Chart 5). [A05] Female farmworkers were more likely than males to be married (60% vs. 50%). [MARRIED*GENDER]

Many married farmworkers did not routinely reside with their nuclear families. Fully 45 percent of those with a spouse and offspring were not residing with them at the time of the interview. Ninety percent of the non-resident families lived in Mexico. [MARRIED*FWPARENT*LOCAT] Most single, childless farmworkers lived with people who were not part of their nuclear family.

Farmworking women were more likely than men to reside with their nuclear families (74% vs. 27%). Ninety-eight percent of childless, married farmworking women lived with their spouses, as compared with just half of comparable men. Ninety-one percent of mothers, as compared with just 42 percent of fathers, lived with their children. [FAMCOMP*GENDER*ACCOMP]

Chart 5. Farmworker Marital Status

Although this is a young population (median age was 29) and 43 percent were single, nearly half (45%) of all farmworkers had children. About 24 percent had children with whom they resided, 21% had children resident elsewhere, and a small fraction (1%) lived with some, but not all, of their children.

Of those farmworkers who were parents, roughly a third each reported having one, two, and three or more children. The likelihood of separation from their children appears to increase with family size. Just 5 percent of intact farmworker families, as compared with 11 percent of those living apart from their children, had 5 or more offspring (see Chart 6).


Chart 6. Number of Resident and Non-Resident Children of Farmworker Parents


Chapter 3: Education, Literacy, and English Skills
Summary of Findings

Ø Five out of six farmworkers spoke Spanish (84%).

Ø Farmworkers typically had completed 6 years of education.

Ø Just one-tenth of foreign-born farmworkers spoke or read English fluently.


Native Language
Chart 7. Native Language of U.S. Farmworkers

Spanish was the predominant native language of farmworkers (84%), followed by English (12%). [B05]The remaining 4 percent reported native languages such as: Tagalog, Ilocano, Creole, and Mixtec (see Chart 7).

Education


The median highest grade of schooling completed by farmworkers was 6th grade. [HIGHGRDE] Twenty percent had completed less than 3 years of schooling, while just 15 percent had completed 12 years or more.